Author Update

Mondays always seem to come around so fast! Last week was a wash as I was still sick, and today was supposed to be the day I posted a video on how I made one of my romance covers in Canva. Last week went by in a haze of chores, sleep, and work, so I will do my best to get something figured out and post for next week.

As for today, I don’t have much going on. Everyone is slipping into the lazy days of summer. My Clubhouse marketing chat is on hiatus until the Fall, and I’m missing the only podcast I used to listen to as they wrapped up to pursue other things. I’m still trying to figure out why I feel like crap even after my surgery, and I have another appointment on Tuesday. It would go a long way if I could feel better, and I’ve been really struggling lately to remain upbeat and positive. Twitter isn’t the fun, supportive place it used to be, and it’s been difficult not to feel alone. Not just in the writing part of it, but in my personal life as well. My fiancé and I broke up after a five year long distance relationship and my son moved out to live with his dad to have a built-in ride to work for his summer job.

I’ve had a lot of transitioning to deal with lately, and when I clicked publish on my paperback the other day, I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment (though if you wanna see how pretty the cover looks, click here). I also felt a bit let down as I don’t really have anyone to share that with. Most of my writing friends with whom I was close faded off, and the one person who would have been my biggest supporter is gone. It’s not that I’m complaining about any of that. I like being alone–I just have to get used to all these changes and find joy where I can. And of course, I don’t want to turn this blog into a Debbie Downer’s journal. I’ll bounce back one of these days; I just need time to adjust.

I have been working on my books, though that is another area of my life where sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or why it even matters. I love writing and I love publishing, so I won’t stop any time soon (it’s what saved me the past two years), but a friend of mine on Twitter yesterday and I were talking about crap books and how it seems anyone can get anyone to buy anything if you make a video about it on TikTok. It’s pretty sad when you see people posting their sales figures in the author groups on Facebook, and the books are no better than first drafts. I’m not saying all books are like that, or that I would resent any author their success, but it is disheartening for anyone who puts their heart and soul into their books only for them to sink while “other” books do well. In the end, it will be their loss because with the number of books out there for readers to choose from, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, and in most instances, a first draft won’t cut it. So I can feel bad for myself now, but I’ll build my book business on good books and be proud of that.

I haven’t done anything with my paperback on Amazon yet besides claim my author page and add my photo and bio. Captivated by Her hasn’t clicked in with Goodreads or Bookbub yet, and I don’t want to manually add my book to Goodreads because I know from past experience it will eventually auto-populate, then I’ll have two of the same book on there. I’m also wondering if I want to go through with paying for Booksprout for reviews, and if I want to offer Captivated to my newsletter subscribers in exchange for a review. From what others have said in the past, I don’t think I would get many takers anyway, but reviews are important, and it makes the most sense to ask my newsletter subscribers and get into the habit of treating them like the VIPs I want them to be. I also hate that Booksprout went to a paid only service, and even at the cheapest rate ($9.00/month) the quality of the reviews in the past wasn’t worth it.

I went ahead and set up Captivated by Her in Bookfunnel so I have the link available if I decide to offer it in my newsletter. There is an option where you can put an expiration date on the link, so I might just tell my subscribers they have two days to download it and then in two weeks’ time email them a review link so they can post a review on Amazon if they want. This book is the first in a duet, anyway, so I’m not looking to push this book very hard. I’ll run some ads when the ebook is live, but I’ll use a couple of free days in Kindle Select and buy some promos when the second book comes out.

What I’m waiting for is for my book to show up on Goodreads so I can claim my author profile under my pen name. I may never be wide, so claiming my page on Bookbub may never be something I care about. Bookbub ads are great if you’re wide and your book is on sale, but I’m hearing it’s still difficult be approved for a BookBub feature if you’re in KU, so not sure if building my profile on there is something I want to waste energy on.

That’s about all I’m doing right now. I’m working on my covers for the series I’m going to release next year–titling these books is already giving me fits and doing the covers is probably pointless right now anyway because who knows what the cover trends will be in January. i just need to put them together so I can order proofs. Reading them in paperback form is the last step I need to finish editing them and then I can finalize everything this fall.

Despite being down about my current situation, I’m still working, trying to stay relevant and keep on top of things in the industry. There just isn’t a whole lot going on, which can be a really good thing, but it also doesn’t set me up to talk about much on here except what I’m doing with trying to get my pen name off the ground. I still think I made the right choice there, but I forgot how long it took to get everything situated.

So, I guess that’s it from me. This blog post is posting late today because Work was busy and then I went to my sister’s last night for dinner and a movie. By the time I got home, I was just ready for bed. We can’t be winning all the time.

Have a great week, everyone!

Author Interview: Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Author SJ Cairns

I met Sami-Jo through a friend and through the years of writing we’ve stayed in touch. I asked her if she would be willing to answer some questions as her publishing journey has been a little twisty, and I always like to pick the brains of people who have had different experiences than me. I hope you enjoy her interview and sign up for her newsletter to stay in touch with her and her publishing journey!


You’ve been published by small presses up until now. Can you explain the pros and cons that go with publishing with a small press?

  • The absolute best part of having a publisher behind you is that they’re using their own money. Sounds shallow, but while writing can be pure magic, publishing is a whole other mangy beast that incurs a lot of costs for multiple editors, book cover design, formatting, and anything that includes a dollar sign to put out the best possible product.

The downside is that someone else has their grip on your work. They usually get the lion’s share of any profit, you’re bound by their publishing schedule (though it’s quicker than traditional publishing) when all you want to do is hit PUBLISH, and the author is still expected to do their own marketing. Oh! And they can go under at any moment. A plague amongst many small presses since the publisher is sometimes no more than a single person or two with some loyal people to work out all the kinks. When you’re in your groove and suddenly the publisher disappears, your books become homeless. It can be heartbreaking.

You’re looking at self-publishing for the first time. What do you think the biggest challenge of that will be?

  • Not knowing just how much I don’t know about the process is super daunting. There’s so much to learn if you want to do it right and make an impact right from day one. And, come on, who doesn’t want an amazing launch that catapults your book to the top of some fancy best-seller lists? It’s the dream, but it means more work and since I have a newly minted two-year old, spare time is in short supply. I have to-do lists coming out of my ears.

The series you’re working on will have several books in it by the time you’re done. Do you have any tips for how a writer can put together and publish a large project like that?

  • I never intended to write a series, but it’s the small things that can make you want to shave your head. Is this word usually capitalized? Does this character already know such-and-such about this character? Was this character’s eyes green or brown? It’s never-ending. A series bible can help by making extensive notes about things such as special words and how they’re used or spelled, having handy character bios including all physical attributes and important events, but be prepared to search back for things when needed. After multiple drafts and rounds of editing, some details are branded in your brain, but do yourself a favor, assume you won’t remember it all, and write it down.

Since you’ve been writing and publishing, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

  • That you can’t read and reread a contract before signing enough. Not a happy lesson, but an important one. When you’ve spent years on a project and plan on putting it in someone else’s hands, it’s takes an enormous amount of trust. And whether you know the people behind the label or not, publishing is a business and should be treating like one.

I think, during these times in particular, it’s difficult to stay motivated and on track. With a husband and a little one, along with a part-time job, how do you stay motivated to write?

  • I think the motivation comes for wanting something for myself. I loved writing before having my daughter and it took far too long to get back in front of my laptop, especially after losing my office to her nursery. Writing and publishing is something I enjoy. Being motivated and having the time to utilize that motivation is not always aligned and I repeatedly have to give myself a kick in the ass to get things done when the timing lines up. Motivation is not a one-time deal, it takes daily effort and prioritizing.

You’ve done everything from blogging on your website to vlogging on YouTube. What is your favorite social media platform and why? And can you give us some tips on how to find time for that in a busy schedule?

  • I tend to use Facebook the most. Some hate it, but I firmly believe that all social media platforms are as good as you cultivate them to be. Your domain, your control. I wouldn’t be published at all if it wasn’t for the writing relationships made on Facebook. If you can figure out your ideal reader, create content with them in mind, and try and have some fun while doing it, you’re golden. Social media is more to connect with people and, if they are readers, they may follow you and your titles based off how they feel about you as a person. These days, the author is as much the product as their book is. Create a bunch of things on a free day or weekend and then schedule their posts along the week or month when you know you won’t have time. There’s lots of programs that can do that for you.

In closing, what’s on your plate for the rest of 2022? And do you have the next couple of years mapped out?

  • My plan is muddy, but I can vaguely see it somewhere in there. Not ironclad, but my hope is to learn a few more (a million more) things about self-publishing, devise a re-release schedule for the 4 already published books in the Soul Seer Chronicles series while finishing up book 5 and tackling book 6 (They ALL need new covers). Also, to work on another series I haven’t announced yet. Oh, and developing my newsletter subscribers, marketing materials, and update my website. Phew. It’s fine. I’m fine. I can do this. The biggest drive is just to get my books back out there. Not being a published author right now actually feels odd and I’m not a fan. Though, being in control of my titles is super empowering and I am looking forward to reintroducing them to people all over again.

Find SJ on her website: sjcairns.co
Sign up for her newsletter: sjcairns.com/newsletter-sign-up

Until next time!

Working on your craft: Can you publish without an editor?

So, there was an interesting question that came up in one of my Facebook writing groups, and essentially, she asked, Can you really make a living publishing without an editor?

Considering that’s what I’m trying to do with my new pen name because I can’t afford to hire out, it piqued my interest.

All the answers, as you would imagine said, of course you need an editor. I was the only one who said, not so fast. There are a lot of variables when deciding something like that, and some of the questions I threw back at her were, How long have you been writing? Have you ever gotten feedback before, like, ever? Do you have a good memory to keep track of your own (in)consistencies and details? If you don’t know how to write a catchy beginning, avoid a saggy middle, create interesting and meaningful character arcs, and know your grammar and punctuation backward and forward, then you’ll probably need help. (It also helps immensely if you know what you don’t know and have the wherewithal to look it up.) During the first couple of years when decided to try write books to publish, I needed help, and I did use editors and beta readers. That was back when I had a large circle of friends who were willing to trade or charge very little and we all came through for each other. Now most of those friends are gone, and I’m alone. I said in my post, if you’ve written enough words to find your voice and style, then you’re one step ahead of most newbie authors. I’ve edited for a few new writers, and no amount of good editing will fix bad writing. The writer first has to give you something to work with, and if s/he doesn’t….

If you, or the original poster of that question, are looking for an easy way out, there isn’t one. Writing is like any other skill and it takes practice and a knowledge of the genre you’re trying to write in.

I admit, I love a writing craft book, and I read them all, but some of them get too formulaic, and I can’t follow. I tried reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody, and it just wasn’t for me. (She also has a blog that you may find helpful.) The way Jessica broke down a novel’s components made my head spin. Another book I’ve read, (though not recently) is Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books) by Gwen Hayes. Romance authors a million times over swear by this book, but I just couldn’t make it work for me. And it’s not because I’m a pantser and want to write as I discover the story. I’m a plantser, and have a general idea of how I want the story to go, what the characters’ backstories are and their emotional wounds from their pasts that haven’t healed and how they affect their futures, which is what any romance book is about. But turning writing into a formula, or consciously chopping up my plot into the three act structure is really difficult for me to grasp and I can’t do it. The only two things I do with regards to planning that way is making sure something happens at the 50% mark to avoid the saggy middle (the Mirror Moment as James Scott Bell calls it), and breaking up my characters around the 75% mark, because that’s most what romances do. To be honest, them breaking up and thinking all hope is lost is my favorite part of any romance, and I would do it anyway.

When you’re a new writer, betas or developmental editors are valuable. They’ll tell you where the story drags, if you’ve rushed your ending, if your characters have no substance, and over time, if you listen to their feedback, your writing will smooth out and you’ll start to include those elements naturally. I don’t think any writer who is writing a debut novel will have all that figured out, never mind having written enough to find their voice and style. It’s why whenever I see a writer saying they are querying their first ever book, I say good luck, because chances are, your book will sound like you’re a brand new writer, and an agent can’t sell that.

It’s really not fair, because a lot of good writing comes from gut instinct, or following an intuition that you’ve honed over a million words. You develop your own formula based on genre expectations and how you twist those reader expectations to make your tropes fresh and new. All that comes with practice and listening to feedback.

Once you have your voice and style down, once you know you can deliver to your readers, then yeah, I think you don’t need an editor, not someone who will deep-clean your manuscript, though it does mystify me how many people get angry when I say it. (I even left a Facebook group over it.) I don’t know if it’s because they resent having to use an editor, or are just defensive of indie publishing as a whole and how much crap is published on, let’s face it, a daily basis, or what. I really don’t know what makes people so mad when I say it, but that doesn’t make it less untrue. Besides, no one has any idea how hard someone will work not to need an editor. I read craft books like crazy, read in my genre (though not as much as I should) and write. Maybe that’s the issue people have? They aren’t writing? Look, it doesn’t matter who you are, you need to practice to get better, and that goes for anything you want to try to master. Olympic gold medalists have been honing their skills in their chosen sports since childhood. Same as musicians. But I suppose if you have twenty hours a week to write, and you’re talking to someone who only has five free hours a week, yeah, maybe there will be a little resentment there. I write a lot. I don’t have many friends, I work from home, I don’t go out much. When I’m not working, doing chores, running errands, or going to Tuesday movie night with my sister, I’m writing. That’s not something I’m going to apologize for, and neither should you if someone is giving you a hard time.

In reality, it’s a moot point, anyway. I know 6 and 7 figure authors with one-star reviews that say they needed an editor, when I know that hiring an editor is part of their publishing process. You won’t please everyone, so you might as well be honest. If you need help, get help, and if you can write a good story without help, don’t worry about it. You can’t achieve perfection, and I’ve already said this will be the last time I go through my 6 book series. I will ALWAYS be able to find something to change, but I need to let them go. I’m tired and I have many other stories in my head that I want to get onto the page.

So, how do you make your writing better, level up so you don’t need an editor?

Read a lot in your genre. A lot of developmental editing is finding those tropes and elements that make your genre what it is and helping you meet those reader expectations. You won’t know what those expectations are unless you read a lot in your genre. I know this stinks like writing to market, but every genre, be it romance, domestic thrillers, detective novels, have elements that you can’t leave out or you’ll just make readers mad. Writing a good story is all about the overall picture as much as knowing where your commas go.

Listen to feedback early in your career. When I first started writing again, it took me a lot of feedback to find my groove. My very first beta who volunteered pointed out all the “justs” and “thats” and that was my first lesson in filler words. That was a great start to learning what I was doing wrong. Another beta/editor told me to trust my readers because I had a habit of “reminding” them of what they’ve read in previous chapters. That was another great lesson, and one I still apply today when I find myself rehashing information. Repetition is tedious and boring. Echoing was another thing people pointed out to me, and I still do it, and it’s part of my editing to delete or replace repeated words. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going through my series again when I thought I was done. Because I found a couple of words that I used over and over and over again and I wanted to tighten up my sentences. Those are words I will always watch out for now, and you can make your own list of filler and crutch words to refer back to when you’re creating your own editing process.

Work on new projects. I learned a lot working on different books, and it’s the only way you’ll be able to practice crafting an engaging plot. As Kathryn Kristen Rusch says, rewriting will only teach you rewriting. You need to work on fresh projects to move forward.

Realize it will take time. “They” say you need to write a million words before you find your voice. I think that’s true–I wrote a 5 book fantasy series that will never see the light of day, plus a few novellas, and a book that would turn into book one of my first trilogy before I found my stride. That was in 3rd person past. I wrote a quarter of a million words in first person present before I found my voice in that POV, and I can tell reading through my series. That’s why I was so paranoid editing these books–I wanted book one to sound like book five, and it did take me a few extra thousand words added to books one, two, and three for them to smooth out and sound as good as books four, five, and six.

I feel bad for the beginning writer with no writing friends or money for resources. But as they say, if you don’t have money to spend, then you have to spend time, and that might mean swapping projects with another author who is in the same position as you. That’s not a bad thing. You can learn a lot editing for someone else, so it’s a great idea to join author groups on Facebook and make friends with authors who write in your genre. You’ll get help, and you’ll help others, so it’s a win-win for you and your writing career.

This was a very long introduction to what was supposed to be a list of craft books that have helped me. I linked to Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Romancing the Beat above. Just because they didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you, and you should definitely give them a try.

It’s surprising but one of the books that helped me a lot isn’t necessarily a craft book. It’s The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. This breaks down why bestsellers sell the way they do. This might be my favorite book in the whole world because it mixes craft and the publishing industry. I love it. I can’t recommend it enough.

The second book that changed my life is Tiffany Yates Martin’s book, Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing. I love everything about this book. She reminded me about conflict, character arcs, character motivation, and stakes. Important elements that, if you skip or miss, will make any book fall flat. You need tension, and this book will help you find it. There’s even a section that mentions other editing resources if you can’t hire out. If you like audiobooks, she posted on Twitter she narrated it herself! (She also blogs, and you can sign up for her newsletter.)

Though I haven’t read it for a long time, it was one of the first self-editing books I ever read, and it helped me a lot: Self-Editing On a Penny: A Comprehensive Guide by Ashlyn Forge.

This book made so much sense. It was a real eye-opener, and now I recommend it to every new author: VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing (Bell on Writing) by James Scott Bell.

When I went to the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference a few years ago, every agent in attendance said this book is a must have. I do have it, and it’s a great resource: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Someone recommended this book to me, and his sense of humor keeps this book from reading like a textbook–it was an enjoyable read, and I also learned a lot: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer.

And last, but not least, Mignon Fogarty’s grammar guide is a must have. Written in a light, conversational tone, Grammar Girl is easy to understand, and she goes through everything you need to learn grammar and punctuation for all of your writing projects: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Quick & Dirty Tips) (Quick & Dirty Tips)

This post turned into its own animal, and that’s okay. Thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far. In an age where everything is pay to play, including beta readers, even if you have plans to hire out, making your manuscript as perfect as possible will save you money. The less your editor/proofer has to do for you, the better for your wallet. You’ll never regret teaching yourself as much as you can. I haven’t.

Thanks for reading!

***Per usual, this post does not contain any affiliate links, and the book covers are screen grabs from Amazon.

Negativity in the Writing Community

social media doesn't create negativity, it uncovers it. Jay Baer

posted on a desk with partial view of laptop, notebook, and pen

I am really tired. Not only because of what’s been going on in writing circles, but because my cat won’t let me sleep, and I’ve been approved for surgery at the end of March, which is good news because I need to keep trying to find some relief from what’s going on with me, yet it will cause a lot more work for the next little while. I was really hoping to launch the first book in my duet in April…we’ll see how that goes.

But what I’ve been seeing in the writing community makes me tired, too. Namely, tweets like this: (And no, I don’t feel bad for showcasing them here. If you’re putting something out on social media, expect for it to be shared. Period.)

My books ARE edited. By me.

I wrote my own blog post about that a long time ago, once upon a time believing that indies who didn’t care about what they published brought us all down. But the fact is, it’s not true, and it will never be true. Because I’ve realized this: Instead of looking at Amazon as a retailer, look at Amazon as a distribution center. You still have to create and store a good product, you still have to drive traffic to your book’s product page, you still have to keep the promise you made to your reader and satisfy your customer with the content. All that is on you.

So, why do indies take quality, or lack thereof, so hard? So personally?

I would guess it’s fear. Fear that they are going to put so much money, time, and effort into a book that will sell a handful on launch day and then sink in the charts. There is nothing more disheartening. Nothing. While a book that (and this is subjective, anyway) isn’t written as well, will sell like gangbusters for months, maybe years after its release. This happens. Of course it happens. Why do we still talk about Fifty Shades even though that book is 10 years old? Or Twilight? People hated Twilight so much that they ran Stephenie Meyer from social media. Writing and being on social media in a writing community capacity wasn’t on my radar back then, but I saw in real-time what the writing community is capable of doing when they bullied a poor agent after she tweeted her preferred book lengths guideline. It was atrocious, to say the least. Fifty Shades of Grey was fine; it still is fine. Ask Erika how her sales are of the books written in Christian’s POV. She’s not crying in her tea. So is the Twilight saga–it’s fine. Midnight Sun has sold over a million copies. The authors who are bitter may never find that level of success, but that isn’t something that you should shove onto other authors in your community. Your, ummm, peers?

Will poorly written books sell? Of course they will, and this fact is what drives splinters under people’s fingernails.

Now, I can get crabby at authors the same as everyone else. When I hear the, “I’m an indie author and I can do what what” mantra, and then in the same breath, “Why aren’t I selling any books?” Yes, I get crabby at those people. Very rarely can you have it both ways.

I just don’t understand why anyone needs to put that kind of negativity out there in public. There are bad indie books. Books full of telling, head-hopping, plot holes, poorly edited because let’s face it, editing is expensive, but no one is forcing anyone to read those books. Like Nicole says further in that tweet thread, maybe those authors shouldn’t expect to sell books. Maybe they shouldn’t, but it’s none of my business. I learned a long time ago not to buy a book because it has a nice cover on it–anyone can make one in Canva. I have to read the blurb, make sure it’s properly formatted, and I have to read all of the look inside Amazon makes available before I buy a book. And listen, if you buy a book and you don’t like it after the first couple of chapters, return it. Why keep it? You wouldn’t keep any other product that’s broken after you bring it home from the store. Maybe that advice won’t go over well, but I view books as products, and I don’t keep things that are broken. I’m too poor for that. Yes, I’ve had my books returned. No, it didn’t hurt my feelings. I simply didn’t care.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, because when authors like these decide to spew censure all over Twitter, I am one of those authors they hit. I have never, ever, been afraid to tell you that I do most of the work on my books alone before I publish. All alone. And the fact is, I’m not in the minority here. When everything, and I mean, EVERY SINGLE THING in this industry is pay to play, and you are broke, what in the heck can you do? You can still be a real author and not pay for a developmental edit, a copy edit, and a proofer, and a beta reader after the fact. That’s ridiculous and will cost you thousands of dollars. Do beginning authors need more help than an author who has written twenty books? Maybe. Probably. But I also know authors who have an extensive back list and their books are boring and/or have other technical issues, either because they haven’t gotten the feedback they needed earlier in their career, or they think they are good writers and aren’t open to feedback.

No one can predict what will hit and what won’t. What book will fill a need at the right time, what will hit with a trope or a feeling or a theme. That’s why there are sleeper hits. Any book at any time can explode. Do you have a better chance if that book is properly edited, has an exciting look inside, with a great (and legal) cover and fantastic story? Sure, but it’s not like authors intentionally publish books without those things. We all launch to the best of our ability, and my best won’t be the same as someone else’s best. There are are people who will always be better or worse than you. I have a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Someone else could have an MFA. Someone else could have flunked high school English. Those things are not indicative of success. And to be honest, it’s none of my business what degrees you have or not. Maybe you have 100,000 newsletter subscribers like Lucy Score, or maybe you have a little money and can run some Amazon ads and buy a newsletter promo and hope Amazon’s algos help you out. Maybe your book gets picked up by popular TikTokers. Colleen Hoover’s books are having a moment because of TikTok.

Generally speaking, there is more wit than talent in the world. Society swarms with witty people who lack talent. -- Antoine Rivarol

printed on desk with partial view of laptop, notebook, and pen

The point is, tweets like the ones up above aren’t necessary. If you’ve been burned by an author, indie or otherwise, tuck their name in the back of your mind, don’t buy from them again, and move on. While I was reading Billionaire when I decided to pivot, I read a lot of books. Some were really really good, and some were not that great. And I understand the frustration. A lot of those not-so-great books? They were outselling the books I enjoyed. By a lot. A lot has to do with who the author publishes with. Some are full-fledged indie authors, some were published by Montlake–an Amazon imprint. But that just makes it even clearer that there is so much that goes into a bestseller that trying to hit it is futile.

So stop ragging on other authors. Do your best, and hopefully one day it will pay off.

The end.

Lack of Productivity. What’s causing it, and how to fix it.

I’ve seen the topic of productivity a lot lately, maybe because we’re still in what’s considered the beginning of the new year and we’re all scrambling to keep up with New Year’s resolutions and tackle the goals we’ve set for ourselves. I haven’t specifically written about productivity, though I did write a blog post about writer’s block, which is akin to the weird uncle of the family when we talk about writing productivity.

I guess by now it’s a running joke that the hardest thing a writer can do is sit down and write. Butt in chair. Carving out that time. But I have never, in these six years I’ve been a part of the industry, understood this. I get writing is hard, and I’ve come to learn this about myself while writing and/or editing–If I hit a rough patch in dialogue, or say I’m echoing a word in a sentence and I want to rewrite the sentence to take out one of the words and I’m at a loss as to how to do it, instead of pushing through, I’ll flip over to Twitter. That’s avoidance. For now, I let myself do it because so far it hasn’t hampered my output. Normally, after I scroll for a second and see the same old drivel, I’ll flip back to my manuscript and keep going, but it can interrupt my flow.

I’ve seen a lot of tweets about productivity or lack thereof, and, unfortunately, if you’re writing to publish, and more importantly, if you’re writing to publish to build an author career, you kinda need it.

One of the hardest lessons you’ll ever learn in this industry is you don’t have nothing if you don’t have a book, and over time, you need several if you want to find any traction. If you’re writing a series, you have way more marketing power behind you if your series is done. You can’t accomplish that if you’re not writing.

What are some causes of lack of productivity? Here’s a short, though not comprehensive list, of what I’ve seen out in the writing community:

You’d rather do something else. This actually tells me a lot about how you feel about writing and publishing, and if you truly would rather watch TV, read a book, go for a drive, or make dinner, then honestly think about stepping back. Of course, it would help to know the reasons why you’d rather do something else. Maybe you’re not seeing the results you want, or you’ve lost interest. You started writing as a hobby and you’d rather pick up a different hobby like crocheting or knitting, or get back into exercise. If you’d choose to go to the dentist over sitting down and writing the next chapter, give yourself permission to stop writing. No one is forcing you, and if you hate what you’re writing, chances are, your readers will be able to feel that when they read your book. Move on. It’s okay.

You don’t like what you’re writing. Starting a new project is okay as long as you can finish something. If you lose interest in your WIP at the halfway point every time, something else is going on with more than just productivity. Maybe it’s a craft issue because you get bogged down in the saggy middle. Maybe finding an alpha reader who will read as you write, or a critique partner can help you stay motivated and give you tips and ideas on how to finish. The problem with learning craft is that you have to write to learn it. This is the same for characters, too. If you hate your characters, you have to figure out why. Is she a whiny snot? Doesn’t act her age? Is he an alphahole without any redeeming qualities? Are they not doing anything interesting? Find some feedback from somewhere, or refresh your creative well and read for a while. Start a new project, sure, but if you’re going to add to the 20+ WIPs you already have on your computer, you need to do some digging and figure out what the problem is and how you can fix it.

You have no idea what to do with it once you’re done. I’m reading Zoe York’s Romance Your Goals, and in it, of course she talks a lot about setting goals–setting realistic goals, and goals you have to work to reach. I have a lot of thoughts about goals, productivity, and strategies and tactics that will help you achieve those goals. If you have 10 finished books on your computer, they won’t do anything if you don’t know what you need to do with them. More than covering them with a good cover, writing a good blurb, and putting it up on Amazon. I mean, do you have a newsletter? Do you know an ads platform well enough you won’t lose money? Do you have a launch plan for what you’re going to do when your book is done? If you don’t, that could be causing you some productivity issues. If you have no idea what you’re going to do with it once your book is finished, there’s no real reason to finish it then, is there? That way of thinking was pretty much me for the past two years, but instead of lack of productivity, I think I had too much. That is a problem in itself because now I have lots of books and still no real actionable plan to maximize those books and pay myself for all the time it took me to write them.

Maybe you have an idea, but it’s too overwhelming to think about. We talk a lot about a five year plan, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what we’re eating for dinner in five hours, never mind where we want our careers to be in five years. If that look into the future terrifies you, ask yourself why. Writing and publishing is a long game, but if that look into the future bogs you down, shorten the timeframe. Maybe look to the next two years, plan out the books you want to write, be it three a year, two a year, whatever you can handle, and let yourself get excited about what’s coming in the immediate future.

You’re burnt out. I think I’ve mentioned this a lot on here, when I heard Jo Lallo say on the Six Figure Authors podcast that there is no faster way to get burnt out than when you work hard for little to no pay off. I’ve you’ve been working for a months, maybe years, and your career is in the same place as it was before, that can affect your productivity. You might wonder why you’re still trying to make a go of it, and you’re thinking about giving up. This conversation goes back to goals–what you want out of your writing and more importantly, how you’re going to get it.

You don’t have any writing friends to cheer you on or commiserate your failures. You’ve probably heard me mention this a time or two. A lot of my friends I made when I first joined the writing community are gone. They dropped off because they don’t write anymore, or we don’t talk for some reason or other. I was friends with a woman for a long time until I realized our friendship was all about her, and her writing, and her roadblocks, and whenever I would say something positive about me, or my books, she blatantly ignored it. I faded off from that friendship and a couple others. While I don’t recommend staying in a friendship (or any type of relationship!) that takes more than it gives, replace those friends with other people or you’ll look up from your laptop one day and see that you are alone. It’s tough to write and be proud of your successes if there is no one to share them with. Take that opportunity to reach out to other authors in your genre and make connections and friends there. Those relationships will be more meaningful because they’ll understand the ups and downs of writing and publishing in that genre. There are so many sprinting groups and people who are willing to be accountability partners. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel if you have people to reach out to when you want to share your goals and small successes.

At the core of productivity is passion. You have to have passion for what you do, and joy and the love of writing will keep you coming back to your laptop and your characters. Sometimes other things will get in the way, but ultimately, if writing matters to you, you’ll find a way to keep going.

Good luck!

Can You Follow Advice from Someone Who Isn’t Successful?

There is no shortage of advice. Everyone has an opinion on what to do and what not to do, and not many are afraid to shove it down your throat either, or take offense when you don’t follow what they say, or want you to drop down on your knees in gratitude they gave you five seconds of their time.

I think about this when I’m blogging and sharing my experiences, tweeting my own opinions, and especially when I’m scrolling through Twitter and my Facebook writing groups. I was poking around for motivational quotes for another blog post, and this one caught my eye:

I really like this because we’re all struggling writers, all trying to find that magic bullet that will catapult our book to bestseller status (with as little work and money as possible, if we’re being honest here), and we should be open to advice. We should be open to learning from other people’s experiences.

Probably one of my favorite topics to blog about is scammers–people offering a service they aren’t qualified to provide. The indie community is full of them, and how many indies finding ways to game the system or relieve you of your money knows no bounds. I got into a discussion with someone on Twitter the other day who is getting to the blurb-writing business. I asked politely, as I have never had a problem with this person before, if he had a refund policy in place for the blurbs that don’t convert to sales. He said that blurbs aren’t part of marketing that therefore he had no refund policy in place as it wasn’t his responsibility to market your book and that conversion on a new blurb wasn’t measurable. I said I wished him well and that I hoped his own sales success was proof that he could write a good blurb. He said he was doing just fine. I took a look at his book rankings, and unless he meant something other than book sales, no he wasn’t doing just fine.

So he 1) didn’t believe a blurb was part of marketing a book, 2) didn’t have a refund policy in place if you were unhappy with conversion 3) didn’t believe blurb conversion could be measured and 4) his own books weren’t doing well sales-wise. I hope people followed along our tweets because there is no way this person should be offering a blurb-writing business AT ALL. I did the best I could to call him out, but there’s only so much I can do, especially without looking like a big B. I think I already have a reputation on Twitter as being a bit aggressive, and I’m trying to soften up my look. It’s not working.

This goes for a lot of other advice too–writing advice, cover advice, marketing advice. I know one writer who loves to give writing advice, is always sharing excerpts of her work, but it’s all telling and she’s not selling books. People who don’t know what covers are hot in their genre love to give advice on what they like and don’t like. Maybe their advice is valid, maybe it’s not, but if you’re trying to ask for advice from a perspective that others don’t share (like writing to market, covers to market, writing commercial fiction, or the other way–if you want to write your own thing getting advice from someone who doesn’t share that viewpoint won’t help), it can be tough. You’ll be inundated with opinions that would never help.

Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can help whether the people those eyes belong to have had their own success or not. I feel like I know what goes into a bestseller, and I can say easily that depending on Twitter for sales will only go so far, or you need to learn an ad platform, or you need to change your cover, simply for the fact your cover is horrendous and I don’t need to be a bestselling author to know it.

I think that’s why I like Bryan Cohen’s free Amazon ad challenge so much. When he shares his screen/Amazon Ads dashboard during the videos, we can see that he’s selling books. We can see that he’s written books that people want to buy. Yes, he spends a lot of money on ads, but he also makes it all back and more. His ad challenge wouldn’t be worth much if he wasn’t selling books.

Just the other day in a group someone was asking about a different indie author who offers classes (that aren’t free) and one poster said, “I stopped taking his classes when he stopped selling books.” Like the blurb-writing guy, people forget that it doesn’t take much time to go onto a book’s product page and see the ranking in the Kindle store. You can go onto any of my books’ sales pages and see that I’m not selling many. I’m very transparent–in fact it’s practically the premise of my whole blog–I’m not selling books, this is why I think that is, how I’m changing that, and I hope what I try can help you. I’m not interested in making money off this blog. When I get a couple of readers who thank me for the resources or thank me for sharing my experiences, or tell me they tried something and it worked, I consider my job well done.

So what do I suggest you do when you might consider taking someone’s advice?

  1. Take a look at their success rate if at all possible. Look at their covers if they are going into business creating covers and see if they know market trends, what’s selling right now. Look at their books’ rankings and decide for yourself if they’re qualified to give the advice their giving.
  2. Ask yourself if what they’re saying makes sense. Trends change, and maybe someone isn’t up on the newest thing–like that lady who told me my first person blurb isn’t how everyone else is doing it, when actually most are now, at least where billionaire romance is concerned. But it could be that you missed the boat with something and their advice is legit. Check it out and see if it’s something you want to experiment with.
  3. Where else are they online? Sometimes Amazon sales rank won’t always be the greatest measure of success. LIke the guy who wants to write blurbs, maybe he is successful somewhere else (like writing ad copy for his day job), but if he doesn’t make that known, it reflects poorly on the business he wants to start. Some writers publish to Wattpad and have a large following there. Some write for blogs that have good traffic and they have a large following in that circle. Some submit to literary journals and are published in lit mags. Dig deeper. You might be surprised–and learn their opinion is steeped in more experience than you think.
  4. Do they have a good track record giving advice? Sales aren’t the end all be all, I know that. Sometimes questionable books do quite well and no one can figure out why. Maybe someone has a great marketing tip that didn’t work for themselves but worked really well for someone else. Maybe they know a secret ingredient and it turns out to be the last piece of your own puzzle that can bring your books to the next level, like a promo that didn’t do much for them but made another author’s book rank high in the charts. I edit on the side for friends who can’t afford it. Just because my sales aren’t great doesn’t meant I’m not a good writer or editor. I have a handful of people who could tell you that I’m good at what I do and that I’m qualified to give grammar, punctuation, and writing advice.
  5. Look at the viewpoint of the person giving the advice. I tweeted about this not long ago–taking the advice from one writer on Twitter when there are a million readers out there probably isn’t the best idea. Writers read differently, and what would bother a writer may not faze a reader. I catch myself doing that all the time–stressing while editing or writing about something a writer said they disliked. Why should I care if a writer says she doesn’t like the word moist (or whatever?) Chances are 99.99% that she will NEVER read any of my books. So why does it matter? All that matters is what readers think–and they will tell you.

I’ve taken advice (and my cover for Faking Forever is better for it), but I’ve ignored my fair share. I’ve also given a lot of advice, and usually in some way the people I’ve spoken with aren’t ready to hear it–even if they’ve asked for it. I’ve told plenty of people their covers aren’t working. I’ve looked inside a lot of books and said they need another editing pass. I’ve pointed out blurbs that aren’t written well, and I don’t think a day goes by where I haven’t told someone that they need to branch out from Twitter for marketing if they aren’t seeing the results they want. Usually my advice consists of either spending time or money (it’s work, y’all), but you have to invest something in your books if you want to find readers and nurture an audience. Just today someone on Twitter said he would take down his YouTube channel if he couldn’t get up to a certain number of followers by the New Year, but when I asked him what he did to drive traffic to his channel besides Twitter, he didn’t answer me. So in that non-answer I know the answer. Nothing. I don’t need to be a YouTube guru to tell him he needs to promote his channel to expand his audience and threatening to take his channel down won’t do anything to build his audience. The opposite, in fact, because why would someone invest time in something that may disappear?

At the very heart of your business, only you can make decisions for you, and only you can decide what to apply to your book business and what not to apply. If you’re not seeing the results you want in blog follows, sales, YouTube subscribers, whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, that will be the true test. Trying to achieve different results doing the same thing over and over again will not work, and you don’t need anyone to tell you that. (And if you can’t admit it, it won’t matter how many people tell you–you won’t believe them anyway.)

So, after all that, should you follow advice from someone who isn’t successful? I guess the murky answer is maybe. I certainly wouldn’t pay for anything if the person dispensing said advice couldn’t put his money where his mouth is, and in the indie publishing business, that usually means book sales. There are quite a few top-tier indies who do dispense advice through podcasts, non-fiction books, interviews, and various classes they’ve decided to teach. Some will do consulting, some blog and offer their advice for free. There is plenty of advice out there from indies who are making it, so maybe there’s no need to take advice from someone who isn’t. It could be that simple.

Do you give advice? Take it? Let me know!

Until next time!

Thursday Thoughts and Personal Update

I think it was two weeks ago I blogged a list of the things I needed to accomplish in the short term to get the ball rolling on publishing some books. I am happy to say that I’ve managed to check of quite a few of those.

I proofed the proof for Faking Forever, put the changes into Vellum, generated new files and corrected the mistakes on the cover/full wrap–more on that. I created a Large Print edition and ordered a new proof of the regular print and the proof of the large print. Since I never used to utilize the back matter of my 3rd person books, it was strange to add a sign up link to my newsletter to the back matter of these. I should add a buy link to the next book as well, but I’ll have to go back and edit those as I have books available. For now the back matter only has one call to action, and that’s to sign up for my newsletter. Organic sign-ups are the best though, so I will be happy if I get any from that.

To ease some of the pressure of learning Bookfunnel and how to segregate lists in MailerLite, I decide to forego offering a reader magnet for the moment. I can write something quickly, maybe after Christmas, but I was putting too much pressure on myself when really what I want to do for right now is publish a couple standalones and start getting my pen name out there. I don’t know how Bookfunnel works, and I need to figure that out and spend more time in the MailerLite dashboard to figure out who goes where when they sign up for what. It will help when I get some signups, and then I can see what happens. I don’t want anyone not to be offered a free book because I don’t know what I’m doing. Needless to say, I decided to sell the book I’d decided to use as a reader magnet, but once I get the ball rolling and familiarize myself with my newsletter I’ll write something else. It was a blow, but at the same time a ball of anxiety loosened in my chest. I know offering a reader magnet is the best way to entice people to sign up, and I will get to that eventually, but for now. I just want to focus on getting some books ready to publish.

I also formatted My Biggest Mistake and did the cover. I have another blog post coming about this, but I asked for feedback on the blurb in my various FB writing groups. Here is the cover for this ugly duckling standalone, and the interior I formatted with Vellum:

Probably I’m not going to be able to use a dark-haired sad guy looking down again, since he looks similar to the cover to Faking Forever:

Initially I had my name at the top, above his head, but since I’m trying to keep more of an idea of branding for my books and not having to go back and redo anything, I moved my name to the bottom. I think it looks nicer. The proofs I have coming will have my name at the top, but I won’t need to order proofs again for such a small change.

I have seen other photos of the two men, and they are two different gentlemen (with some stock photos, you never know), but I’ll have to keep this in the back of my mind and go for a different look for my next few books. That should be easy to do since after I proof the proof to My Biggest Mistake, I’ll be starting to (finally) edit and get my series ready that I wrote last year during the lockdown. I am really excited to take a look at those books with fresh eyes, and it will be a challenge to do six covers, a trilogy for Zane and Stella and a trilogy for Zarah and Gage, but have them all feel similar since the story reaches over all six books. I should do the smart thing and hire out, but I like the control, and with so many scammers out there, trust is hard to come by.

This week I’ve been taking a break–it’s hard not be writing anything, but the proof for My Biggest Mistake will come Saturday, and after that I’ll be jumping into a few months of non-stop work. I’m trying to enjoy the time off, but not actively writing anything, especially since I know what I want to write next, (and it isn’t a reader magnet) is a bit strange. I’ve been reading a domestic thriller I bought a few months ago and I need to format and do a cover for the box set of my wedding series. I think that is the biggest item on my list I haven’t crossed off yet. It’s not hard–just moving Vellum files over to create a large one, but it’s busy work. I need to make a mug of coffee one evening, put on some music and get it done. I don’t want to wait too long–the Christmas books are already starting to pop, and I think I could get some good KU page reads and sales, especially if I sell it at .99 from October until December.

They’re all in KU singly, but I haven’t gotten many reads on them in the past few months. In fact, I’ve stopped looking at my sales dashboard, and only keep an eye on my ads to the extent that they are breaking even. I was going to try to find a different couple for the front so I can run some ads to the box set, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. I tried looking for a different pose of the couple on the first book, but they are all in bed, or doing dopey things like being sad at a pregnancy test result. I could zoom in on their faces to take the “lying down” element out of it and see if that works, but as they are positioned right now, Amazon won’t let my ads go through, and it’s been very hurtful for the series as a whole.

That might actually work. It would be an easy fix to upload new ebook covers for books without having to change too much if the new cover could get through Amazon’s cover guidelines. All I can do is try to submit and see what happens. It would be nice to be able to advertise these this winter. I can add zooming in on their faces to my to-do list.

As far as health news goes, my infection is gone, but an ultrasound revealed an ovarian cyst that is making me feel not so great. So I have a follow up next month to see what’s going on with that. I’m not in pain, just a sense of discomfort most days and some bloating. I’m getting old though, so I suppose it’s to be expected.

I guess that’s all for now. Things are moving along, though this week slowly. It will be nice when things pick up. I didn’t want to start writing a book. Then I would be suck for six weeks while I finished it. I’m trying to convince myself that having a week off isn’t a bad thing, and today all I’ve done is take a walk and write this blog post.

Later I’ll be creating author interview questions for Nina Romano, and there will be a giveaway…I’m thinking for fall… so stay tuned for that in coming weeks.

Thanks for checking in! Have a great rest of your week!

The 80/20 rule and how you can apply it to your writing and marketing (The Pareto Principle)

The 80/20 rule is pretty simple. You want 20% of your effort to bring in 80% of your results. If you did 80% of work for only a 20% ROI, you’d get burnt out pretty fast. So what does this rule really mean? When it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, you have to figure out what will require the least amount of effort that will give you the most return. That can be different for everyone. Here are some tips to getting ahead with 20% of effort because no one has time to work for nothing.

  1. What are you writing? Bryan Cohen came up with an excellent analogy during the last webinar I listened to. He said, if you’re not selling books, take a look at what you’re writing. Is there a demand for it? He used underwater basket weaving memoirs as an example. If you’re writing a series about your experiences with underwater basket weaving but no one is into that, writing book after book isn’t going to help you find readers or increase sales. You’re just adding supply where there is no demand. You’re wasting a lot of effort for little return and eventually you’ll get burnt out and possibly give up. What can you do to fix that? Think about what you want to write. That is always important because you need to like what you’re writing. There are other genres I’m sure you like to write besides underwater basket weaving. If you can find what you enjoy writing and match that up with a genre that’s selling, you’ll be a lot closer to that 20% of effort because you won’t be spending so much time writing something that won’t sell.
  2. Find an ad platform that works for you. Beating your head against a wall trying to figure out Facebook ads and how to use them without going broke might be a huge waste of your time if Amazon’s auto placement ads bring in steady sales with a low cost-per-click. On the other hand, maybe your ads aren’t working at all because your cover isn’t on target for your genre and you’re getting plenty of impressions but no clicks. You’re wasting 80% of your effort trying to make ads work, and when you only gain maybe 20% in return, you’re either losing money on clicks that don’t generate sales or you’re wasting time fiddling with click cost, daily budget, and ad copy, which can be just as valuable, or even more so, if your life is packed and you have a limited amount of time in which to write. Amazon ads work well if your categories are set correctly, the keywords you chose when you published are accurate and relevant, and you have a good cover/title/blurb. Contrary to popular belief, if you show Amazon evidence you have a good book, they will help you promote it by showing your ad. Facebook ads work well if you can zero in on your target audience and can create a good ad–stock photo, headline, maybe an excerpt from your book. How you go about learning those platforms is up to you, as we all learn differently and click with different people teaching those classes.
  3. Choose your social media platforms wisely. If you’re on Twitter 80% of your “free” time and your engagement isn’t encouraging sales, maybe it’s time to rethink where you spend your time. It’s different if you’re on for social hour to relax or blow off steam, or if you’re wanting to make connections and network, or join in a chat, but tweeting promos all the time with no engagement (on your followers part) and no sales seems like a gigantic waste of time to me. You’d be better off creating a Facebook Author/Reader group and posting engaging content on there, or blogging about genre-specific topics to encourage your readers to buy your books. You could also start a newsletter and write a reader magnet, or if your reader magnet is old, create fresh content to spice things up. Whatever you do, if you’re not seeing a return for the investment of your time, it’s time to try something else.
  4. Make a list of what’s working… or not. If you’re like me, you haven’t been in the game long enough to know what works, or at it long enough to know what doesn’t. I’m not making much money. The five years I’ve been writing and publishing have been true lessons of what not to do. How can we make a list of the things that work if we don’t know them? Look to the pros. Everyone says newsletters are the key to a good launch and steady sales. I don’t have evidence to the contrary, so I started one. Writing without a niche didn’t give me very far, so I’m drilling down. Not networking in my genre has left me feeling lonely and I don’t have any opportunities for collaboration or newsletter swaps, so I’m joining in more. Those are all big mistakes, but if I correct those and experiment to see if those are things that will work for me, I can add them to the list.

Chances are, if you’re a writer, you can never go wrong with spending the most time writing your books. Building a back list can increase your overall sales, and consistently adding books to your front list will keep the algorithms at Amazon happy.

Ultimately, you want to work less but while doing so, achieve more. This is especially important if you’re like me and writing isn’t your day job. I have a lot of places for my time and attention to go, and doing things that won’t move my business forward will only be a waste of time in the end.

What are your 20% activities? What are some that are considered part of your 80% but still enjoy doing? Let me know!

Doing a Full Paperback Wrap in Canva for KDP Print (plus screen grabs)

I’ve come across this question a lot these days, mostly I think because a lot of authors use Canva for their ebook covers and graphics for promos. Some bloggers have compared Canva to Book Brush, and while Book Brush can do many things Canva can’t, I feel that Canva is more versatile and I prefer to use it over Book Brush. Especially since Book Brush is more expensive and if you already pay for Canva Pro, you’re not looking to plop down another $146 (for their popular package) a year on another program.

I’ve never made a full wrap in Book Brush, though it is a feature they have available in their paid plans. I made my first paperback wrap in Canva not even knowing if it was possible. It was the old cover for Wherever He Goes and it was a complete experiment applying what I knew from making covers in Word before I knew Canva existed. I ordered a proof not knowing what to expect, but the cover came out beautifully, and since then I’ve done all my wraps in Canva and for a couple other authors too.

These days if there is trouble with a cover, it’s probably a KDP Print glitch. Their POD printers are overworked and underpaid just like all of us these days and I’ve heard reports of covers not printing well, interiors that are crooked, pages falling out of the binding, and even text of other books inside yours. That is a KDP Print problem, not a Canva problem. The only issue I’ve ever encountered doing a paperback wrap in Canva is that IngramSpark requires a CMYK color file while Canva saves in RGB as does GIMP. IngramSpark will still accept your file, but they warn you the coloring in the cover might be off. If this is truly a concern of yours, don’t use Canva for a full wrap. Learn PhotoShop or hire out. I publish with IngramSpark and in a blog post from a couple years ago, I compared the books from IngramSpark and KDP Print. While everyone insists IngramSpark prints with better quality, I did not find that to be the case, and Canva had nothing to do with it.

That being said, there are a couple things you need to know before you do a full wrap in Canva.

Your stock photo must be in 300 dpi. I buy my photos from Deposit Photos, and lately when I download a photo, the image size is huge but the dpi is only 72. You have to fix this or your cover will come out pixelated and you won’t know why. You can download GIMP for free and use the SCALE IMAGE (under Image in the menu) to fix this, or if you already have Photoshop, adjust the dpi and save. That is the photo version you want to upload into Canva.

This is the screenshot from a photo I used to make a mock cover the other day. You can see that the dpi is only 72. And if you take a look at the width and height, sometimes that is too huge for Canva to accept and they’ll ask you to fix the size. The width and the height doesn’t matter so much, and you can change the width to a lower number. This is a horizontal photo and I chose 3000 for the width. Press Enter and it will automatically resize the height. With the DPI set to 300, export it as a jpg or png, it doesn’t matter, Canva accepts both. (If I’ve lost you on this step, you’ll have to do your own digging. I rarely use GIMP and this post is by no means a tutorial on how to use it, because yeah, I don’t know how to do very much.)

You have to have your interior already formatted for paperback. That includes the front and back matter, the font you chose, gutters and margins and all the rest. Unless you want to play, it’s helpful if this is the final version of your paperback interior. It’s already been through betas and your editor. It should be ready to publish. If it’s not, you can experiment with your cover for practice, but you need the final number of pages for your spine’s width. KDP Print gives you ten pages of wiggle room. That’s not much and more often than not, they’ll make you resize your cover using an updated template.

Choose the trim size you want and page color you want. I see this question all the time in the FB groups, and most say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Though if you’re concerned with printing costs, the more pages you have–250+–the larger the trim size you want (6×9 is best) because more pages means higher printing cost. My novels run anywhere between 70k to 90k and the only thing that I use as a yardstick is this: My series books are 5×8. My standalones are 5.5×8.5. I don’t know why I do this, but it’s a system I’ve fallen into. If you write epic fantasy and your books are 400 pages, choose the 6×9.

This is one of Lindsay Buroker’s epic fantasies. Amazon makes it easy for you to check out what other authors in your genre are doing. You can see that this book is 528 printed pages and she chose a 6×9 trim size. Her spine is 1.32 inches. It’s a thick book. When you publish and set your prices, KDP Print will offer you a royalty calculator and you can price your book based on the royalties you’ll make when you sell a paperback. Price too high and you won’t get many takers. Price too low and you won’t make anything on the sale. Try to find a happy medium and fit in with what other authors in your genre are doing.

As for the color, I always choose cream for fiction. Seems the standard is cream for fiction, white for nonfiction. There may be exceptions, but that’s what I go with.

When you have the number of pages from the formatted file, know your trim size and page color, you can Google KDP paperback templates.

This is only for paperback. As of this writing, they are rolling out a hardcover option. It’s in beta right now, but offering a hardcover is what you’ll need to decide based on your business goals. I write romance and I focus my marketing on readers in Kindle Unlimited. A hardcover edition of my book doesn’t interest me, and if I ever wasted the time to create one, it would be for vanity purposes only.

Download the template. It will come in a ZIP file. Open it up and save the PNG as a name you’ll be able to find later. You can’t upload a PDF into Canva, only download, so the PNG is the one you’ll want.

Now it’s time to do some math.

When you want to do a full wrap in Canva, you need to know the canvas size. This is where I think a lot of people get tripped up. How do you figure out the size of the canvas so your template will fit? Your canvas size has to be the size of your book’s trim, plus spine width, plus the bleed. These numbers will change based on the trim size you choose for your books and the spine size. You won’t be able to use the same canvas size over and over unless you choose the same trim size AND your book is the same number of pages every time. That’s going to be highly unlikely, so it’s best just to realize you’re going to need to learn how to do the math.

We’ll start with the template:

The template will tell you how wide your spine is. You need this for the math. There is another way to figure out spine if you don’t download the template first, but this is the easiest way so no use giving you more math.

Then this is how you figure out the size of the canvas:

For the width of the canvas: The width of the back cover plus bleed, plus spine, plus the width of the front cover plus bleed.

If we use the template above as an example, the template is 5.5 x 8.5. This is what we add together:

5.5 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .65 (spine) + 5.5 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 11.90 inches.

That is the inch width you put into the custom dimensions box in Canva. The default is pixels, you’ll need to change it to inches.

If you need to see it in a different way, I made this for a friend:

The height of the book is 8.5 + the bleed .25 = 8.75. This is the number you put into the height box in the custom dimensions.

Hit enter or click on Create New Design and you have the canvas for a 5.5x 8.5 sized book with a .65 spine. It might not look like much, but now you can upload the PNG of your template and put that into the canvas.

It will take a little moving around, but keep as much orange as possible because that’s your bleed line. Anything on the orange or beyond has a chance of getting cut off in printing. The spine guidelines keep your text from bring printed on the front or back covers. Make sure the template covers the entire canvas.

You might have noticed I didn’t tell you your template needs to be at 300 dpi, and it doesn’t. You’ll be building your cover on top of this template and you won’t see it at all when your book is printed.

When I say that you’ll be building your cover on top of this, I mean you’ll be putting the stock photo and all the text on top of the template. What you use for your front cover and the back cover is going to be up to you. Some authors use a horizontal photo like the woman on the dock above and use it to create a full wrap from the one photo, like this:

Woman in white dress sitting alone on the pier. Back view (purchased from Deposit Photos)

You can see I flipped her and used a filter, but I used the whole photo for a full cover wrap. I built it on top of the template using the transparency feature and it looks like this:

Using the bleed lines, you can put the font where it needs to go. It’s not perfect–the author name isn’t centered and can come down more. When you’re done with the bleed lines, change the transparency of the photo back to 0 and this is what you’ll download. Download the file in print-ready PDF for your KDP dashboard when you upload your files for publishing.

Lots of people say they don’t know what to put on the back of their covers. The sky is the limit, really, from just the blurb to reviews of the book to your author photo. I’ve only done my author photo once, and that was for the back of All of Nothing:

The only thing I would caution you on is you don’t need to make the blurb font huge. It was one of my mistakes first starting out. And if you don’t want to put a white box for the bar code, you don’t have to. KDP Print will add it when they print your cover. Google for more full wrap ideas.

For the woman on the dock, I blew up the part of the water giving the back cover a grainy texture that matched the photo but some authors like the full photo wrap. It keeps them from. having to worry about getting the bleed lines on the spine perfect for printing. POD printing isn’t an exact science anyway, so chances are even if your PDF is perfect, the spine will be a little off. No matter how centered my title and author name are, almost 100% of the time they won’t be centered on the spine when you order a copy. Now that I’ve done it both ways, I think I prefer the full photo wrap.

I added a white gradient (that you can find in Canva) to the bottom to white out the dock a little bit making Penny’s name more readable. When it comes to cover design you know your own abilities. I’ve often said I’m lucky I write romance and can find a cute couple and slap some text over them and call it good. It’s not that simple, obviously, but if I wrote in epic fantasy, or even thriller, I would have to hire out. I’m not interested in learning beyond what I know. I’m a writer, not a graphic designer.

Developing an eye for book covers takes time and a lot of practice. Sometimes what you think looks good on the screen won’t translate well to a printed cover at all and you’ll be back to the drawing board. If you’re tackling book covers for the first time, you may be investing in some proof copies just to see how your work looks printed. If your business model makes paperbacks important, then you’ll put a lot of time into learning how to make your paperbacks look amazing. Like I said before, my business model centers around KU readers and it’s more important to make sure my cover grabs attention at thumbnail size and indicates to readers the second they look at it what genre it is.

It might seem like I skimmed over the most important part: the math. We can do another book with a different trim size just for practice.

This is the template the first book in my Rocky Point Wedding series. The trim is 5×8 and the spine is .70 inches. If we do the math for the Canva canvas it would look like this:

5.0 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .70 (spine) + 5.0 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 10.95. That is the width you would need to put into the custom box.

The height would be 8.0 (cover) + .25 (bleed) = 8.25. That is the height you would put into the custom dimensions box.

This is the cover I did for the first book in the series:

I did most of it in Canva, though I added some transparent gradient in GIMP for blending the two photos. Everything I know I taught myself, and it’s not fair i’m trying to shove four years of practicing and learning into one blog post. You’ll have to do your own experimenting.

Some odds and ends I picked up on the way:

Don’t buy a bar code. You don’t need one. KDP Print and IngramSpark will generate one for you. I buy my own ISBNs though, and that will be a choice you need to make if you’re in the States and expected to pay god-awful prices.

Don’t use free photos from Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels, et al. Cover your butt and secure your business and use photos that you pay for from trusted sites like Shutterstock or Deposit Photos. Same with fonts. Not everything is available for commercial use. Be careful.

Use caution when choosing the models on your covers if you write romance. Amazon has gotten very picky lately, and the cover for His Frozen Heart disqualifies me from being able to run ads on Amazon Advertising to that series. Needless to say, that sucks.

You can use the same canvas size for an IngramSpark template. The one difference between an IS template and a KDP Print template is the spine for IS is narrower. The only adjustment you’ll be making is your font size for your title and author name on the spine will be smaller.

Elements (font, symbols ) can shift when you download your PDF and they will look “off” when you upload to KDP. I haven’t found a solution for this except to overcorrect, save, and re-download so the elements are in the place they are supposed to be. When you download the PDF, check the file before uploading to KDP. You’ll see if anything has shifted and you can correct it. The KDP Print previewer will show you exactly how your book cover and interior will print. If you don’t like ANYTHING in the previewer, fix it because printing won’t change it.


There are videos on how to create a full cover wrap in Canva–and you might find them helpful–but the few I’ve watched leave out important steps like making sure your photo is 300 dpi. This is going to take some trial and error. I remember being soooo nervous waiting to see if the cover for Wherever He Goes was going to look good.

I think that’s all I have. I know it seems like a lot of information, but blogs and videos won’t take the place of practice. If you have any questions, leave me a comment. I’ll answer to the best of my ability. If you’re making covers with my tips, tweet me at @V_Rheault on Twitter. I want to see what you’re doing.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


Resources I’ve found helpful:

IngramSpark’s File Creation Guide

KDP Print’s template generator

IngramSpark’s template generator

Canva Book Cover Templates

Snobbery in the publishing industry.

In one of my Facebook groups I’ve since left, there was a gal, let’s call her Ella. She was a traditionally published romance author, but she said due to burnout, she hasn’t written for quite some time. I know how real burnout can be–especially in romance where publishing three to four books a year is the norm.

But throughout some discussions that I lurked in on, I realized one thing. Burnout hasn’t kept her from writing. Snobbery has.

You see, Ella stopped writing when her book deals dried up and she refused to indie-publish further books.

When I made this realization (and maybe it’s a realization she herself hasn’t come to) I sat back, stunned.

Of course, I don’t speak to Ella and her real reasons are all my conjecture at this point, but it’s worth talking about.

Snobbery in the publishing industry is real. There’s snobbery against indie publishing, there’s snobbery against romance in general, which makes Ella’s reasons for not writing anymore all that more laughable because she’s writing in a genre that is looked down upon more than any other genre on the planet. If we gave in to snobbery, there wouldn’t be romance (considered fluff by many) erotica, for sure, or most genre fiction. We wouldn’t have comic books (considered a low form of “reading” by some). We wouldn’t have audiobooks (listening is not reading!) and so much more.

Ella’s bitter because she blames indie-publishing for stealing her book deals and won’t contribute to a system she feels is beneath her. But we all know the traditional publishing industry is broken–the mid-list didn’t disappear overnight, and it’s no one’s fault but the big houses’ that indie authors stepped up and filled that gap.

But let’s say Ella has a point. What can she do?

*She could pivot. Being capable of adjusting is vital with any career choice. (I have an HR degree, and I shudder when I think about all they have gone through with COVID and work-from-home protocols. Not once in any of my HR classes did we talk about a pandemic.) She could switch from romance and write literary fiction. She could spend the next five years writing the next great American novel. She could then query, obtain her precious book deal, and watch her book sell a thousand copies, maybe win an award, if she’s lucky.

*She could write women’s fiction which seems to have a little more meat than straight-up romance and grab a book deal and hope to become the next Jennifer Weiner. Or she could write women’s fiction, swallow her pride, and build a following like other women’s fiction indie authors (see: Jane Davis and Jessie Newton), and hope to gain a “respectable” and “sophisticated” audience.

*She could keep writing what she loves and indie-publish because after all, there is no better marketing than writing the next book and her front list would sell her backlist (the books she’s most proud of, I guess. Shrug.).

So instead of letting bitterness about something she has no control over dictate how she writes, Ella does have choices. Instead she chooses to let snobbery and resentment win.

Maybe she’s tired. The system can be disheartening at times, and in this business, it’s important to understand your WHY. Why was Ella writing in the first place? For the glory of the book deal? The validation (good reviews?)? To reach readers who love to read romance? She can still reach readers indie-publishing. More, in fact because she’ll have complete control of her books. She can run ads, host giveaways, build a newsletter, and she’ll share less royalties than if she were still traditionally-published.

I’m not a snob, though sometimes I may sound like I am. I believe there is room for every genre, every story. My problem is I wish authors would take a little more pride in their work, and maybe in the end, that’s all Ella’s problem is too. Books that are unedited or poorly written because the author published before her skills were up to snuff. We’ve all read that one book that had potential but just wasn’t quite there. I mean, there’s snobbery and then just wanting to see a bit more quality in the industry. That’s nothing to feel bad about–as authors, we shouldn’t be asking readers to part with their money unless what you’re giving in return is a good, enjoyable read.

I feel sorry for Ella, that her snobbery, resentment and bitterness keeps her from doing something she loves. If I’ve learned anything about the industry in the last four years I’ve been writing and publishing is that anger and resentment have no place here.

A couple years ago, I heard something funny. When we talk about quality in the inde-publishing space a saying that you might often hear is, “Cream floats to the top.” Meaning, the best books will rise to the top despite what everyone is publishing. Then I heard something I hadn’t heard before, the rejoiner: “Yeah, and so does sh*t.” It made me laugh. You can say books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are the sh*tty books that have floated to the top, but it just goes to show that there is space in this industry for everyone.

I hope Ella finds hers.


Another article about the midlist from The Guardian: ‘There’s no safety net’: the plight of the midlist author

If you’re interested in hearing an interview with Jane Davis, Joanna Penn interviewed her a little while ago, and you can listen to it here: